CHANGING tiers now could be too late to save Christmas, fear Stratford businesses.
The unexpected Tier 3 restrictions in Warwickshire could ‘tip the balance’ and mean some town centre businesses do not survive, says Stratforward BID director Joe Baconett.
The leap from Tier 1 before entering lockdown, to now being in Tier 3, came as a shock to district leaders including Stratford District Council which has launched legal action against the decision.
Figures show rates in the district are three times lower than bordering Redditch Borough Council which is in Tier 2.
In a letter to Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi, urging him to pressure the government for an immediate revision, Mr Baconett wrote: “Over one quarter of Stratforward’s members are businesses directly impacted by the revised tier designation. We fear the lack of widespread activity will have a knock-on impact to other businesses across the town centre. The make-up of the town as a tourism and leisure destination will lead Stratford to suffer more than most.
“Our businesses have consistently done what has been asked of them, made sacrifices and changed their business models to respond to the economic and public health needs. December represents the last month of the ‘golden quarter’ for retail and hospitality and this tier designation may tip the balance for many against survival.”
During a BID board meeting it was thought around just one in 20 hospitality and tourist businesses in Stratford could reopen before Christmas if the district moved into Tier 2 – if a review is held on December 16 as suggested by government.
BID member Flair Gougoulia, who owns Greek restaurant El Greco, said the business found itself in a ‘dark place’.
In a letter to Mr Zahawi, she explained how the restaurant had adapted and made sacrifices, including discarding £10,000 worth of fresh produce and furloughing staff. Despite this, the venue had eagerly prepared for Tier 2 restrictions expected across the county this week.
She said: “We had stock ordered, staff on standby, launched an advertising campaign and bookings were coming in. We even put the Christmas decorations up – including two massive Christmas trees outside to help create a festive feel in the town.
“The worst case scenario we could see was Stratford being put into Tier 2. You can’t just turn businesses off and on, it takes planning. Now we just feel dejected, duped and rather stupid.
“December 16 will probably be too little too late for us. Even if we were full 24-7 during that time, I don’t think we would take enough money to sustain us through the winter.
“We understand restaurants who have been operating under Tier 2 are reporting a 75 per cent drop in takings. I can believe that, as the only emails I currently have coming in are cancellations.
“The decision that family bubbles cannot meet in hospitality venues adds to the woe – the week between Christmas and New Year is traditionally our single best trading week of the year. We also lose our biggest trading day of the year – New Years Eve because of curfew rules. So, as each hour passes it looks increasingly more risky to spend money on stock and advertising to reopen before Christmas.
“We find ourselves in a very dark place. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel for us, and the country and the world, but we are not sure if we can make it there as a business. The financial support currently in place from the government might not even sustain us until Christmas – let alone the spring.”
Co-owner of ice cream cafe Hoorays Sasha Barke said the high street venue would open experimentally this week to see how viable it was to continue operation.
She said: “You can’t just stop and start a hospitality business. In terms of planning Christmas we start planning after the summer – ordering stock, staff hiring and training, it can’t happen overnight. So the fact that we’ve been given days to be back up and running makes it so difficult.
“We do a lot of Christmas parties and end of term school parties so we’re missing out on those. Christmas is a time people get together to go out and spend money whereas now that’s not going to happen. People aren’t going to want to go into town. There’s nothing left on the street shopping wise.”
Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi previously said he was pushing the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure Warwickshire would be considered separately from Coventry and Solihull in future decisions about restrictions in the county.